Graduate Student Workshop

The fascination with representations of physical illness as a source of disgust, pleasure, and fear of contagion has been a constant theme in the history of art, as well as a major focus of interdisciplinary academic research. Illness has appeared as an artistic motif in every epoch and has shaped the way artists have understood themselves and their work. Moreover, it has served as a category for evaluating art and artists alike. Thinkers as different as Paul Julius Möbius (1898), Karl Jaspers (1926), and, more recently, Paul Barolsky (1993) have linked disease patterns with art using neuropathological, linguistic, and social history. Likewise, efforts to diagnose illness – El Greco’s eye disease, the ailments of Hölderlin, Van Gogh and Nietzsche – or to designate outsider art have shown how instances of purported malady can generate surprising levels of creativity.

The study of the artistic and socio-cultural treatment of illness will receive two major platforms in 2019: the conferences “Representing the Medical Body”, at the Science Museum in London, and “Kunst und Gebrechen”, at the University of Salzburg. As part of this new wave of academic interest, the graduate student workshop “Illnesses: The Antitypes of Health” will focus on the visuality and artistic representation of disease and their cultural impact.

Symptoms of disease, whether personal or pandemic, also figure in the larger field of tension between the visible and the invisible, and between scientific explanation and superstition. The talks and discussions at the graduate student workshop will examine the antitypes of health in all their variety, from the ancient epidemics and pests in the Middle Ages to the disfigurements of syphilis, cholera outbreaks, the diagnosis of mental illnesses in the 19th century, and postmodern theories of illness.

We invite proposals for presentations of 20 to 30 minutes on any aspect of the visual discourse of disease in the history of art. Possible areas for inquiry include but are not limited to

  • the visuality of illness symptoms
  • the iconography of disease
  • invisible mental illnesses
  • artistic creativity inspired by illness
  • the fascination with and the changing nature of representations of illnesses

We look forward to proposals from disciplines outside art history as well and encourage graduate students and young post-docs to apply.

Please submit an abstract of no more than 300 words along with a short CV. Submissions should be sent as a single email attachment to 

To be considered, proposals must be received by 28 February 2019.